The Rise of Social Influence

Jeremy Lichtenberger, Senior Brand Planner, Palio

Everything old is new again: Reaching influencers – long the Holy Grail for advertising agencies and pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing organizations like Palio  – has gotten some 2.0 polish in the online world.

Today, there a host of products and services that let marketers track and measure influence online. But that begs the question: Is it really all that different from offline influence? And, if so, why does it matter?

Although real-world and social influence can often be different things, the driving idea is the same:  A small number of individuals can often have an important effect on the opinions, beliefs and consumption habits of others. It’s something most marketers are trying to understand better – word-of-mouth and social media marketing.

So what is social influence? Carol Leaman: CEO of PostRank Inc., a company that monitors social engagement across the Web, defines an influencer as someone whose opinion or information has an impact on someone else’s thought process or action.

That influence can be rooted in many things, from topic-area expertise to age, long-term relationships or simply being “loud” and getting attention – good or bad – online.

Why does social influence matter? Although the easy answer is the right one – knowing who influencers are and how they can be motivated helps health care marketing efforts – there are subtleties to consider as well:

Those 50,000 followers on Twitter? That might not be influence. Network size alone doesn’t tell the story. The key to determining influence lies in the actions people take such as retweets, likes or sign-ups.

It’s a new metric for marketing spend. How much a person spends during their lifetime as a customer is a common marketing metric for determining marketing levels. Since influence can be measured, network value can also be factored in to see how much business a customer might be able to refer to you through their network.

Social influence and real-world influence are different animals. Marketers who want to track their brands’ influencers would do well to track both online and offline metrics. Online, social media has democratized influence – there are more people shaping groups with their opinions. However, online influencers, while capable of driving low-intensity actions such as a retweet, or pressing a like button, cannot always drive high-intensity activities. Offline influencers, on the other hand, tend to be smaller in number but capable of driving higher-intensity activities.

“Masspersonal” is a new mode of communication, and it matters to marketers. Social media creates a new category of contact between the traditional categories of personal and mass communication. Traditionally, a brand needed an intermediary – a media channel – to communicate with fans and customers. Now? Everyone’s a broadcaster. Tools like Twitter allow for mass individual communication via the same channel, and create a more personal experience, even if the message isn’t personalized.

In the new model of marketing customers have a voice. Because of the viral nature of social networks, businesses need to harness that power, listen to feedback and empower customer evangelists. By using the Web effectively, marketers can foster a greater presence in online conversations and give rise to social influence.

Palio is an advertising agency revolutionizing pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing to create experiences that will Never Be Forgotten.

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